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Agreement on Baptism: Deja Vu all over again

The Top Ten (Deceitful) Strategies of Ecumenical Agreements

In reading the recent agreement on Baptism between the Catholic and (certain) Reformed churches¹ in the U.S., I couldn’t get over the feeling that I had read all this before. Then it occurred to me: the same strategies are employed over and over again in all major ecumenical agreements. In this article, I make references to the recent Catholic-Reformed Agreement on Baptism to create a “top ten” list of deceitful strategies employed by ecumenists. I then show examples of these strategies being employed in the other major ecumenical documents. Portions highlighted in italics are quoted from the Agreement on Baptism. Extracts from other ecumenical documents (ECT, ECT II, JDDJ, ARCIC)² are in brackets.

  Strategy #10: Rely upon “new discoveries”

The discovery of new source material – both patristic and biblical – has greatly enhanced our collective ability to affirm a common heritage.”

 The employment of this strategy replaces the eternal authority of the Scriptures with the mistaken (and sometimes forged) writings of men. The “Church Fathers” are constantly referred to by Rome to support its unbiblical doctrines. By submitting to the opinions of the patristic writers, the Reformed camp clearly capitulates to Rome and her claim of being the true church based on her (alleged) antiquity. And what new source materials were found related to the Bible???

[From ECT: “We can testify now that in our searching together we have discovered what we can affirm together and what we can hope together and, therefore, how we can contend together.]

[From ARCIC Seattle Statement on Mary: “Since its inception ARCIC has sought to get behind opposed or entrenched positions to discover and develop our common inheritance of faith”]

 Strategy #9: Focus on areas of agreement

 “Our practices and our theologies have varied widely, but even without complete consensus there have emerged important experiences of convergence and deeper understanding.”

 This strategy discourages discrimination and discernment. It denies that some truths are absolute. If you were to ask most Reformed theologians “Do you believe in baptismal regeneration” you would get the answer “Of course not.” Baptismal regeneration is fundamental to any ecumenical discussion of baptism. But these documents are all about minimizing obvious differences and maximizing the secondary and tertiary aspects that can be agreed upon. “Convergence” is a favored term for ecumenists. It is used repeatedly in order to get us to believe that two disparate beliefs can somehow be smushed together like two lumps of play-do.

[From ECT: “In the exercise of these public responsibilities there has been in recent years a growing convergence and cooperation between Evangelicals and Catholics.”]

Strategy #8: “If we talk and talk, eventually we can agree”

“As a result of numerous bilateral dialogues, a growing familiarity with baptismal theology and practice among churches has made a profound contribution to the church’s ability to claim its vision of unity.”

All these agreements call for “further urgent exploration” to promote unity. Do these ecumenists actually believe that they can talk their way to correct theology? It took six years to hash out the agreement on Baptism. These ecumenists could talk from now until the cows come home and they will never be able to reconcile Romish and Reformed theologies!

[From ECT II:  “While we rejoice in the unity we have discovered and are confident of the fundamental truths about the gift of salvation we have affirmed, we recognize that there are necessarily interrelated questions that require further and urgent exploration.”]

Strategy #7: Start with the assumption that we are already united!

“It is precisely the gift of our unity in the church of Jesus Christ through our baptisms which enables us to come to dialogue tables not just as acquaintances but as kindred – as members of one family in Christ – to consider in depth these matters of baptismal theology and practice.”

The ecumenists make the invalid assumption that we are already united. When did this occur? The Reformed camp surrenders the high ground– after all, we are the “separated brethren.” We are the ones who left “mother church” in the 16th century. Far from seeking convergence, we should strive to remain distinct and separate from Catholicism. The Roman Catholic religion is a system of error that is fatally flawed. Her beliefs are set in infallible concrete. She cannot move or converge.

[From ECT: “All who accept Christ as Lord and Savior are brothers and sisters in Christ. Evangelicals and Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ. We have not chosen one another, just as we have not chosen Christ. He has chosen us, and he has chosen us to be his together.”]

Strategy #6: Give lip service to our differences, then deny they are important

“We note those places where consensus has yet to be achieved but where ongoing dialogue holds promise for closer convergence; and we acknowledge those aspects of our theology and practice where there is no convergence but where the commitment to the eventual full, visible unity of the church will be well-served by enhanced mutual understanding.”

All these ecumenical agreements make a point to declare that we disagree on some issues. Perhaps it is to deflect criticism from those in each camp that see the obvious: the theological systems are polar opposites.

[From ECT: “We do not presume to suggest that we can resolve the deep and long- standing differences between Evangelicals and Catholics. Indeed these differences may never be resolved short of the Kingdom Come. Nonetheless, we are not permitted simply to resign ourselves to differences that divide us from one another. Not all differences are authentic disagreements, nor need all disagreements divide. Differences and disagreements must be tested in disciplined and sustained conversation… Among points of difference in doctrine, worship, practice, and piety that are frequently thought to divide us are these:

  • The church as an integral part of the Gospel or the church as a communal consequence of the Gospel.
  • The church as visible communion or invisible fellowship of true believers.
  • The sole authority of Scripture (sola scriptura) or Scripture as authoritatively interpreted in the church.
  • The “soul freedom” of the individual Christian or the Magisterium (teaching authority) of the community.
  • The church as local congregation or universal communion.
  • Ministry ordered in apostolic succession or the priesthood of all believers.
  • Sacraments and ordinances as symbols of grace or means of grace.
  • The Lord’s Supper as eucharistic sacrifice or memorial meal.
  • Remembrance of Mary and the saints or devotion to Mary and the saints.
  • Baptism as sacrament of regeneration or testimony to regeneration.

This account of differences is by no means complete.”]

Wow, given all these differences shouldn’t we ask “in what sense are we united?” But after giving its own laundry list of differences related to how a person is saved, ECT II (The Gift of Salvation) goes on to make this bold assertion:

[From ECT II: “All who truly believe in Jesus Christ are brothers and sisters in the Lord and must not allow their differences, however important, to undermine this great truth, or to deflect them from bearing witness together to God’s gift of salvation in Christ.”]

Strategy #5: Use the prayer of Jesus in John 17 to justify ecumenical discussions

“Ultimately our unity is not something we create but is a gift given us by God. Its visible manifestation is something for which our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ prayed (John 17)”

A weapon in the arsenal of Roman Catholic apologists is Protestant disunity. “Just look at all the denominations! How can their theology be correct when they have so much disunity?” But Protestants have always replied, “We are united in the fundamentals of the faith, such as the doctrine of justification by faith alone.” These ecumenical agreements state that the prayer of Jesus has not been answered. The Reformed camp again capitulates to Rome’s call for visible unity, and ultimately her primacy.

[From ECT II: “We together pray for the fulfillment of the prayer of Our Lord: “May they all be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, so also may they be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17)”]

Strategy #4: Use shame as a bludgeon to accomplish unity

“Where we have fallen short of answering the call to that full visible unity, we confess our culpability and the enduring scandal of division within the body of Christ.”

Following on the incorrect exegesis of John 17, the ecumenists try to make us feel guilty for our disunity. It is a scandal; we must confess our sin of disunity. But Jude exhorts Christians to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered, does he not? Far from being a scandal, the Reformation was a rediscovery of critical truths. These ecumenical agreements are the real scandals that scream for repentance. God has called us to be separate from apostate religion (Rev. 18 and 2 Cor. 6).

[From ECT: “We together, Evangelicals and Catholics, confess our sins against the unity that Christ intends for all his disciples.” and “While we are gratefully aware of ongoing efforts to address tensions among these communities, the shameful reality is that, in many places around the world, the scandal of conflict between Christians obscures the scandal of the cross, thus crippling the one mission of the one Christ.”]

Strategy #3: Make bold claims, and contradict them in the fine print

“1. Together we affirm that, by the sacrament of Baptism, a person is truly incorporated into the body of Christ …

2. Together we affirm that Baptism is the sacramental gateway into the Christian life…

3. Together we affirm that incorporation into the universal church by baptism is brought about by celebrating the sacrament…”

It is a common marketing practice to hide the truth about a product in the fine print. The Catholic-Reformed Agreement on baptism makes these bold claims, but then contradicts them for the next 80 pages! (An example of this is the differing understanding of “Church” between Rome and what is held in the WCF). This ploy is very effective because few people take the time to read the fine print. We live in an information-overload-headlines-only world. Unfortunately, relying on these ecumenical headlines promotes a false unity and much confusion in the body of Christ.

Strategy #2: Use wordsmithing and fail to define terms

  • “by the sacrament of Baptism, a person is truly incorporated”
  • “Baptism is the sacramental gateway into the Christian life”
  • “incorporation into the universal church by baptism”

 What do they mean by “truly incorporated,” “sacramental gateway,” and “universal church?” The document implies that both parties have common definitions for these terms. But they don’t! When it comes to theology, we may at times share a common vocabulary, but we use entirely different dictionaries. It is offensive how these documents are crafted so that each party can see their own theology. Ecumenism would fall under the weight of its own deception if discriminating language were used instead of inclusive language. The reformers made clear distinctions to demonstrate where Rome erred concerning justification. They distinguished the one-time imputation of Christ’s righteousness through faith from the ongoing Catholic infusions of righteousness. The Lutheran/Catholic ecumenists use “impart” to hide this truth.

[From the Lutheran-Catholic accord on justification (JDDJ): “We also share the conviction that the message of justification directs us in a special way towards the heart of the New Testament witness to God’s saving action in Christ: it tells us that as sinners our new life is solely due to the forgiving and renewing mercy that God imparts as a gift and we receive in faith, and never can merit in any way.”]

Drumroll, please. The number one fallacious strategy utilized by ecumenists…

Strategy #1: Claim the presence of the Holy Spirit in your meetings

“We offer this report not simply as an academic study to be reviewed by those with a particular interest in the theology of baptism but to the entire constituency of all of our churches as a discernment of where the Holy Spirit is leading us together.”

I respectfully beg to differ! The Holy Spirit is not a participant in these deceitful attempts at unity. He is the Spirit of truth, not lies. Yet these ecumenists always seem to claim His presence among them. The Holy Spirit NEVER undermines the clear teaching of Scripture. All these ecumenical agreement do is undermine what the Scriptures teach. So I submit, if there is a “spirit” involved in these ecumenical discussions, it is not the Holy Spirit, but the spirit of Antichrist. We would all do well to remember the maxim “unity without veracity is conspiracy.”

[From JDDJ: “We give thanks to the Lord for this decisive step forward on the way to overcoming the division of the church. We ask the Holy Spirit to lead us further toward that visible unity which is Christ’s will.”]

[From ECT II: “The effectiveness of our witness for Christ depends upon the work of the Holy Spirit, who calls and empowers us to confess together the meaning of the salvation promised and accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.]

[Chuck Colson, in a letter to John Richard Neuhaus, co-founder of the ECT movement: “Somewhere during the second afternoon I sensed a real moving of God’s Spirit. I think we all became aware that perhaps this was not just another symposium but that we might be, as you put it, on the edge of something very historic, an opportunity, a window in time if you will. Dare we believe that God is calling us to make a bold statement that could influence the course of His church in the decades to come?’”]

Footnotes:

1 – The “reformed” churches involved are the Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ, Reformed Church in America, and Christian Reformed Church.

2 – Click on the links to learn more about these documents. Here is a brief summary of each agreement: 

ECT refers to the document “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium” – a highly controversial ecumenical agreement that ignored the “solas” of the Reformation and proposed that evangelicals refrain from evangelizing Catholics.

ECT II (1997) refers to the second document in the ECT series, “The Gift of Salvation.” In this document, the writers state that both Catholics and evangelicals preach the gospel – as set forth in the document. But these ecumenists actually preach another gospel (Gal. 1:8-9) – the gospel of ecumenism.

JDDJ (Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification) refers to the agreement in 1999 between the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church concerning justification. This perverse document was signed on Reformation Sunday in 1999 in Augsburg, Germany. 

ARCIC (Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission) refers to the decades-long discussions and related documents between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church, especially related to salvation and the authority of the pope. These documents represent a total surrender to Rome by the Anglicans.

[I encourage the reader to take the time to investigate these ecumenical agreements in order to be better informed about the dangers of the ecumenical movement.]

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